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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Those who serve Krishna Lunch are volunteers. So are most who write for the Alligator. You don’t expect gowns and tuxedos on your Krishna Lunch servers, and you don’t expect Pulitzer-quality columns in the Alligator. Still, one can only marvel at the stunningly superficial and ignorant remarks about Hare Krishnas published in this space a few days ago.

The author researched Hare Krishna by interviewing precisely one student of Indian descent. Period. This student’s anti-Hare-Krishna views were presented as “facts.” How hard can it be to visit krishna.com, talk to a religious studies professor or seek a Krishna practitioner’s view?

Please allow me to set the record straight.

Hinduism is diverse. Some say there are a billion Hindus and a billion forms of Hinduism. However, one thing all Hindus agree upon is the wisdom of the Bhagavad-Gita — Hinduism’s most concise and foundational text. How could this article about Hinduism fail to mention the Bhagavad-Gita?

The Bhagavad-Gita teaches that designations such as Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Jew are as superficial as white, black, male, female, tall or short. Each of us is an eternal spirit, temporarily inhabiting a certain body as a driver occupies a car.

Whether you’re driving a jalopy or a Jaguar, you, the driver, are the important part of the car-and-driver duo. Understanding this simple point lifts one above racism, sexism and religious discrimination.

Despite this teaching, some people — including the interviewee — claim only those born Hindu can be Hindu. This caste-conscious view has created long-standing social problems in India, comparable to racism and Jim Crow laws in America.

By contrast, the Bhagavad-Gita teaches one to see others as spirit, not flesh, treating everyone with equal kindness and respect. Krishna people aspire to practice this sublime philosophy and share it with any interested person — black, white or brown.

The Hare Krishna movement, founded 50 years ago by Swami Bhaktivedanta, has published his “Bhagavad-Gita As It Is” in 100 languages. This edition, widely considered the most authoritative, has touched countless African, Asian and European hearts.

Unlike the interviewee, most Hindus, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, are quite proud of Swami Bhaktivedanta’s unprecedented contribution.

Hare Krishna is hugely popular with the Indian diaspora. Dozens of Indian-born UF students have finished their degrees while living at the nearby Krishna House ashram located at 214 NW 14th St. Hundreds of Indian Gators attend weekly Bhagavad-Gita classes there. Thousands of local Hindus attend spiritual festivals at the beautiful Alachua Krishna temple. Millions attend Hare Krishna temples across India and worldwide.

To the author and the Alligator: Do the unsubstantiated, ill-informed and racist views of one student entitle you to irresponsibly conclude that Hare Krishnas are “twisting Hinduism” with “cultural imperialism”?

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Far from “misappropriating Hinduism,” Hare Krishnas espouse the best of Hinduism and all religious traditions: kindness, respect, tolerance and service. Don’t take my word for it; do what the Alligator columnist failed to do. Read “Bhagavad-Gita As It Is.” Visit Krishna House. Talk to one of the joyful, simply dressed but honest singers and servers at Krishna Lunch.

Carl Woodham is the Hare Krishna chaplain at UF and the author of “Bhagavad-Gita: The Song Divine” and “A God Who Dances.”

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